7/17/16 – New York

Course: Pier 25 Mini Golf
Location: 225 West St, New York, NY 10013
Price: $6 for 18 holes (cash only)

New york skyline

Pier 25 Mini Golf

Review: Wow. I’ve been to New York City before, but I always forget how big and crowded it really is. It’s just filled with so many people: bankers, artists, retailers, actors*, taxi drivers, Neil Patrick Harris, and even sous chefs crammed together into a hot, cramped city – everyone’s in a rush to get somewhere; no one wants to remember where they’ve been or what they’ve seen. One day soon, something will simultaneously, irrevocably snap in the minds of those who live in this sweltering, crowded city and its inhabitants will fight to the death while we watch helplessly from the sidelines, horrified but placated because our ever-present bloodlust has temporarily been slaked. And finally, after months of fighting, only one victor will remain in the empty, bloodstained city: the king (no… the God) of the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. My money’s on the sous chef!****

But enough rambling. I know why you’re here. For some mother effing mini golf. And sure, I could have skipped the Big Apple and instead reviewed a course from upstate New York, but if you’re trying to find the most popular course in the state, you’ve gotta take a bite of that big apple and plant yourself an orchard. I’m not sure if that allegory made sense (or if it even was an allegory), but regardless. I had to go to New York City – the heart of America. And, by far and away, the most popular, highest reviewed course in downtown New York was Pier 25 Mini Golf, located in Hell’s Kitchen***** right on the waterfront.

Was Pier 25 a great course? I don’t know. It had a lot of great elements not normally associated with all the elite, luxury, high profile mini golf courses I’ve visited on this trip. Surprisingly it was one of the cheapest (if not the cheapest) course I’ve visited, which was surprising given its proximity to downtown Manhattan (where real estate costs over 1,500 dollars per square foot, which is insane******). It was also one of the most popular, highly attended courses I’ve been to on my journey – I was stuck for over an hour behind a particularly obnoxious couple who kept making out on the course after they sunk every single damn hole, oblivious to the fact that I was right behind them waiting for my turn to putt.*******

That being said, it was a pretty simplistic, low upkeep course. Sure, there was a neat cave, a small waterfall, and several more complex holes in the back nine (after you’ve forgotten the flat barren green plains of the first half), but that was far outweighed by the divots and dirt on the worn down course, and the shoddy repairs made with green duct tape throughout. Moreover, several of the water features were nonoperational which, like the presidency of William Henry Harrison, felt like a bit of a let down. But, all in all, if you’re in downtown Manhattan and have an hour to kill – you will never get a better view of the city. Decent course… fantastic location.

* It’s so great that every single actor in New York performing on Broadway! The theaters must be huge to fit that many talented players: thespians (and thespiennes) who have finally all gotten the validation they desperately crave, and will never again need someone to say “I want to pay 50 dollars to see you say words. You’re good at saying words. And also you made a smart decision taking out all those student loans to go to drama school so that you could get a degree in mask-work.”**
** That last footnote just reaffirms the age-old adage that “those who can’t act, write”***
***and those who can’t write, type hamfisted lowblows at easy targets for cheap laughs.
**** I’m writing this review hungover on the train back to Trenton, so I apologize if it goes to a dark place.
***** Not to be confused with Heck’s Kitchen, which is just a really shitty kitchen.
****** Which, for those keeping score at home, can buy 1/10th of black market kidney in Delhi (see Hawaiian Rumble in SC).
******* This footnote isn’t related to anything in the main paragraph. I just realized I had a lot of footnotes in this review already and I wanted to add another one. You can ignore this.

Course Score: 46; no par listed.
Pros: Cheap; convenient; popular; you can’t beat that view of the city; the only mini golf course in Manhattan. 
Cons: 
Simplistic holes; poor upkeep; several water features nonoperational; duct tape for repairs.

7/15/16 – New Jersey

Course: Pine Creek Miniature Golf
Location: 394 NJ-31, Ringoes, NJ 08551
Price: $11.00 for 18 holes on upper course (easy); $12.00 for 18 holes on lower course (hard)

DSC_0632.JPG

Mia, Max, Max, and I visit Pine Creek Miniature Golf

Ayyyyy. Fuggedaboutit. Disco fries. Slice ‘a pizza. Pauly D. Wawa on the boards. Trenton.

Chris Christie.

That’s right, take a deep whiff of that humid, chemical-laden air and wipe that industrial smog from your astonished eyes because you’re in Jersey. New Jersey. The perfect travel destination for any 2-month long road trip: is your clothing dirty after spending weeks sleeping in an increasingly smelly car? Just go down to the shore and wash your clothes on the tanned, washboard abs of the local hunks. Is the bottom of your car filled with hundreds of Taco Bell wrappers after spending the past thirty days eating Gorditas with one hand and driving with the other? Fuggedaboutit! In Jersey, other people pump your gas for you so you’ll never have to leave the car (and spill your wrappers, your shame, in the middle of the 7-Eleven parking lot – letting the world see the depths to which you have fallen now that you have forsaken the unspoken conventions of society in favor of that cruel mistress called freedom).

Yes. New Jersey. Home of such internationally famous landmarks as Atlantic City, the Jersey Shore, the Jersey Turnpike, Newark, and fourteen of the world’s twenty largest pharmaceutical companies. Inexplicably however, New Jersey’s highest rated mini golf course is no where near any of these deeply historic landmarks. Located only twenty minutes away from sunny Trenton,* Pine Creek Miniature Golf is yet another one of those classic “one-with-nature” courses that I have grown to despise because there’s literally nothing new to write about them. I’m sure that even Agatha Christie got bored writing the same formulaic parlor mysteries ad nauseum, and I am no Agatha Christie.* Look, I get it. Nature is beautiful. Or something. But what am I supposed to say to make this course sound any different from Pennsylvania’s mini golf review? Or Indiana’s? Am I supposed to say something like “this course was a beautiful 75 minute-long trek through New Jersey’s pristine forests and rolling rivers, featuring complex holes and beautiful upkeep”? Probably. But, just like that corpse I threw off a cliff to fake my own tragic death for insurance reasons, my heart isn’t really in it.

That being said, Pine Creek was yet another overall fantastic course/nature hike. And, without a doubt, the pinnacle of the 18-hole adventure was the lake. Yup. You heard me. The mother effing lake located near the end of the lower course. Featuring three small waterfalls, a working waterwheel, a gazebo on a center island, and complex holes on the bridges leading to and away from the gazebo, this lake was dope. So dope that I momentarily forgot how many bodies the New Jersey mafioso had undoubtedly hid in its murky shadows. So dope that my arm got tired from fist-pumping in celebration of its majestic splendor. The rest of the course was nice too. But man, that lake. I haven’t seen that many cattails since I performed improv comedy at a poorly attended convention of cat enthusiasts that taught me the benefits of “spaying and neutering your feline companions” (this is a real comedy gig I did a few years ago; it did not go over well…)

Was this a perfect course? No. The lake, while beautiful, had a skimming of algae on the surface** that ruined the illusion of dopeness, meanwhile mosquitoes filled the air and ticks patrolled the ground like they lived there or something (when I’m playing mini golf, I want to feel like I’m outside, not actually be outside). Moreover, some of the holes were very stressfully constructed, featuring long, steep jumps over water features that were practically impossible to avoid. I don’t know, maybe I found these holes difficult because I haven’t played enough mini golf yet to know what the hell I’m talking about (he typed sarcastically). Overall however, this was a very good course. The best in New Jersey. Just, when compared to the rest of the nation’s finest courses, all I was left with was the memory of enjoyment… and crippling writer’s block because there was nothing interesting left to write about the outdoors.

* Despite all of my literary pretensions, my impeccable British accent, my collection of old-fashioned cardigans, and my legs that go all the way down.
** Apparently blue colored water actually prevents algae growth. That’s why it was a common staple of many of my previous courses. You learn something new every day…

Course Score: Max (tall) – 61, Max (short) – 68, Dan – 72, Mia – 89; par – 65.
Pros: Beautiful pristine nature; long holes; great upkeep; challenging environment; peaceful serene walk; lake.
Cons: 
Several difficult/impossible holes; many insects; algae growing on lake.

7/13/16 – Pennsylvania

Course: Village Greens Golf, Inc.
Location: 1444 Village Rd, Strasburg, PA
Price: $9.25 for 23-hole gold course; 7.25 for 18-hole orange course.

DSC_0695

Village Greens Golf

Review: After visiting a soul-crushing number of mass-produced ocean resort towns,* I decided to stray off beaten path for a while and drive through Lancaster County, the home of America’s oldest Amish settlement. And, like all good Amish settlements, Lancaster felt like it had been torn right out of the year 1857, complete with cows, cabbages, and a worn-out church sign that just said the word “PRAY” and nothing else. And, while this sign almost sidetracked me with its very tempting offer, I hadn’t visited Pennsylvania to take in the sights. No. I was there for a much more important reason: Village Greens – a family owned 13-acre mini golf course that had been voted the #1 mini golf course in Lancaster County for the past five years. So, after spending ten unbearably frustrating minutes driving behind a bearded Amish man in a horse-drawn buggy,** I finally arrived at Village Greens, flushed with excitement (and lingering fear, having previously spent the night in a motel straight out of the movie Psycho, complete with a frighteningly eccentric owner, pouring rain, and doors that didn’t have locks on them).

Like many of the mini golf venues I’ve already visited on this trip, Village Greens had two courses: an 18-hole “orange” course that had rustic farmland props, complex holes, and moving obstacles. And a 23-hole “world famous gold” course that wound through an untamed wilderness and had some of the most interesting holes I had seen yet. Hiding the hunger in my eyes, I casually entered the course two minutes after it opened and purchased a ticket for the gold course, coyly mumbling to the cashier “world famous? Oh, that looks like fun” as if I hadn’t already spent hours researching this course with the same intensity that a serial arsonist researches cheap gasoline.

But wow. All my intense research could not have prepared me for Village Greens. For the first time on my journey, I actually felt like I was outside (the place where bears live!). While putting, Village Green’s patrons were expected to cross rickety wooden bridges, scale small mountains, and navigate through thick forests (just like bears!). All the while traversing long, difficult holes (one of which featured a 20 foot jump into a pipe that led down another 30 feet drop to the actual hole). And these holes actually were long. Longer than Ulysses. Longer than a drum solo in a freeform jazz concert. So long that you could have called the clubhouse and ordered a smoothie, and it would have been melted by the time you returned (that’s actually true; see pictures below). In addition, unlike every other course I’ve ever been to, if you lost a ball in the roaring river that flowed through Village Greens, there wasn’t a way to get it back. That ball was lost. Really lost. Village Greens actually placed buckets full of spare balls around the course just in case the worst should happen. Which was good because I actually lost two balls while playing, causing me to swear like a sailor who had only been taught the swear words “dang” and “ah man, I just lost another ball!”

But the fact that Village Greens trusted you, the fact that a commercially lucrative miniature golf course actually used the honor system for both golf balls and bottled water (see picture below) was staggering. I’ve never been trusted that much. And, hopefully, I never will again (that much freedom gives a man some awfully strange ideas). It more than made up for the fact that the course was a little dirty in places. Moreover, the fact that I scored a hole-in-one on the final hole, netting me a ticket for a free game of mini golf the next time I visit Village Greens (see picture above)*** just sweetened the pot even further (and the pot was already pretty sweet by then, imagine a Dutch Oven made out of caramel). All in all, Village Greens might not actually be “world famous,” but with all of its beauty, elegance, and trustworthiness, maybe it should be.

Two of them.
** Who must have be astonished and startled to see all these newfangled, sacrilegious automobiles crowding the streets and impatiently honking their anachronistic, what do you call them again? Oh right… horns.
*** Does anyone want a ticket for a free game of mini golf?

Course Score: 80; Par – 74.
Pros: Nature: pure and unadulterated; challenging holes; beautiful; beautiful flowers planted around the course; expansive; they trusted you.
Cons: Some water damage; ferns growing on the course, but properly regulating a course this size seems impossible

7/12/16 – Delaware

Course: Viking Golf
Location: 38965 Virginia Ave, Fenwick Island, DE 19944
Price: $9.00 for 18 holes (unlimited play before 5pm; one play after 5pm)

DSC_0658

My visit to Viking Golf

Review: Oof. Right about now, I’m really regretting reviewing two courses in one day. Not because the strain of reviewing mini golf has overwhelmed me (that happened a long, long time ago). It’s just a bummer that I reviewed Viking Golf immediately after reviewing Old Pro Golf – the two courses had a similar feel, but like Vin Diesel in Saving Private Ryan,* Viking Golf was clearly out of its league. Moreover, it definitely did not do Viking Golf any favors being less than four miles away from Old Pro Golf; the Maryland border was actually visible from the course (with all of Maryland’s succulent crab cakes so tantalizingly close, but oh so far away). But it was the highest rated course in Delaware, so I was obligated to review it: without my fastidious professionalism, I’m just a guy who has played a lot of miniature golf alone in cities where he didn’t know anyone else… Without adhering strictly to the rigors of scholarly excellence, I’m just a guy who has been forced to reconnect with many of his friends on a purely superficial level over a contrived game of mini golf because he knows that in 24 hours he will be gone and they will continue to exist; he knows, deep in his heart, that he is merely a spirit, a transient spirit with the soul of a spectre and the substance of the inconstant ocean mist.

So I had to go to Viking Golf.

But it was still a bummer comparing the two courses so immediately. On any other day, I would have raved over Viking Golf’s cool Norse aesthetic and made a zany “Valhalla” pun** as I praised the twin-headed dragons Midgard and Kangar who ominously laid siege to the miniature town. And if I had reviewed this course right after visiting, say, a more subpar establishment,*** I would have lauded the interesting viking factoids that peppered the venue, and commended the dragon-slaying subplot that progressed throughout the course. But I had tasted the succulent molten lava cake of greatness and, with all that chocolaty lava still coating my mouth and trousers, I was too full to enjoy what was a perfectly adequate (if not above average) course. In short, on any other day I would have behaved just like Roger Ebert if he had engulfed the hand of his twin brother while they were still in the womb: had it not been for Old Pro Golf, I would easily have given this course three thumbs up!

Instead, looking through chocolate-lava-cake-tinted glasses, all I could see were the minor flaws that automatically excluded Viking Golf from claiming the mini golf crown in the name of the Norse Gods.**** In the end, I just couldn’t get over the copious graffiti that ruined this pristine Norse getaway; nor could I ignore the water damaged signs and tarnished holes that turned this course’s “po”tential into “no way in hell”tential. I don’t really have anything else to say about this course. It was fine. But in the way that turkey bacon is fine. It’s just a few steps away from greatness.

Which totally happened by the way!
** “Cause I ain’t no Valhalla-back girl”
*** Mississippi.
**** You know, all those famous, well-known gods like Thor and Loki and… Hawkeye? English majors never really had to study Norse mythology that much. 

Course Score: 43; Par – 36
Pros:
 Good theme; unique holes; told a story; informative signposts about real vikings and viking lore;
Cons: 
Graffiti on signposts; water damage on signage; moderate upkeep; just “pretty good” when it was mere inches away from greatness.

7/11/16 – Maryland

Course: Old Pro Golf @ 68th Street
Location: 6801 Coastal Highway, Ocean City MD
Price: $9.50 for 18 holes; $14.50 for unlimited play.

Dino color

Old Pro Golf (exterior)

Review: Ah. Maryland. A merry land of crabcakes, lighthouses, luxury yachts, fireflies, and tanned men who own all the luxury yachts (wearing their flowing transparent robes and seducing our women while we’re busy stuffing our greedy mouths full of delicious, succulent crab meat as if we were the only crab-lovers at an all-you-can-eat crab buffet at the Olive Garden)*. And what better place to enjoy the Maryland seaside, than by going to a place literally named after the ocean? No, I’m not talking about Oceanegalopolis.** I’m talking about sunny Ocean City, located only a few hours away from Baltimore. And, without a doubt, the uncontested mini golf king of Ocean City was Old Pro Golf. Operating since 1965, this family owned dynasty has four locations in Ocean City alone. To put that number in perspective, Ocean City only has one measly fire department – Old Pro Golf has four times as many locations in the same city! Talk about [Old] “pro”-fessional [Golf]!

As the mini golf king of the land, Old Pro Golf definitely gave its subjects a lordly treatment (and I’m not talking about primae noctis!). This place was phenomenal. Driving directly from sunny Washington D.C., I quickly made my way to Old Pro Golf’s highest rated location at 68th street and tithed a $9.50 entrance fee for rights to putt on the king’s miniature domain. Now, by this point in the review, given the large amount of olde English metaphorical language I’ve been using, I’m sure many readers assume that Old Pro Golf’s course had a medieval theme. Well, those readers can suck on a raw egg until it hatches, because the 68th street location had two courses: an indoor and an outdoor course themed around the ocean and prehistoric dinosaurs respectively. And, as I said earlier, they were both phenomenal.

In particular, the indoor “Undersea Adventure” course was practically flawless – featuring submarines, pirate ships, hidden grottos, complex holes, a plastic aquarium filled with marine animals, a real aquarium filled with marine animals, moving obstacles, and water features, I was hard-pressed to find any flaws whatsoever. When I saw a giant purple octopus perched precariously upon the pirate ship, I smiled wryly and let out a light chuckle of appreciation as I stroked my beard pensively/seductively (one of the mothers on the course quietly moved her child away from me); when an eel statue pivoted out of a grotto, temporarily blocking my shot, I gasped in astonishment and delight, stroking my beard all the more vigorously (the same mother was there and we shared a glance of mutual hatred tinged with just the slightest hint of respect). Could Old Pro Golf’s indoor course have been improved? Maybe. But, writing this review right now, I’m not sure how.

Admittedly, the venue’s outdoor “Prehistoric Dinosaur” course had a few design flaws, but even those were negligible. The outdoor 18-holes were, for the most part, impeccable – featuring giant dinosaur statues at every turn, a massive volcano, rotating cavemen statues,*** complex holes, and impressive water features. Sure, there were a few scuffs in the grass, and sure, the paint was chipping off of some of the sculptures. But it was still very impressive. I cannot speak for their other three locations, but as a course, Old Pro Golf’s 68th street venue gets my highest recommendation. The place was, as I’ve said multiple times now, phenomenal.

* I’m not gonna lie to you… this is going to be one of those “weird” reviews. It got pretty cold last night while I was sleeping in my car. I’m really tired.
**“The megalopolis of the ocean” ©
*** Yeah, I know that cavemen wouldn’t hang out with dinosaurs. Historically it doesn’t make any sense – when Pangea split, all the dinosaurs were stranded on their own island and the humans were stuck on a different island. I guess Old Pro Golf’s cavemen must have had boats or something, but it seems like an awfully long distance to row…

Course Score: 47; Par – 52
Pros: Wonderful aesthetic; fantastic adherence to themes; high production value; practically flawless on most metrics; it even had a ball cleaning station, which is perfectly pointless for a mini golf course.
Cons: A little crowded (but that can’t even be that much of a complaint); some mediocre upkeep on the outdoor course.

 

7/10/16 – Washington, D.C.

Course: H Street Country Club
Location: 1335 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Price: $7 for 9 holes.

DSC_0639

Seamus, me, George, Paddy, and Eric visit H Street Country Club

Review: Washington, D.C – a swampland of broken dreams where the nation’s stodgy elite “elected” fat cat political cronies sell their constituents to fat cat oil lobbyists for a song.* Where the Statue of Liberty’s American dream goes to die because our brave and bold bald eagles are too busy eating genetically modified gerrymandering filibusters to uphold the Declaration of Independence. Where the something something insert political satire here something constitution bill of rights take those fat cats in congress down a peg something something freedom of speech.

America.

I apologize for that past paragraph. There are only two mini golf courses in Washington, D.C.: a pristine, but boring looking outdoor course that is one of nation’s oldest. And an ironic bar on H street that has a nine hole mini golf course and a seemingly endless amount of cheap PBRs. Seeing as I am currently dangerously hungover while writing this review, the course I chose should be pretty obvious.** Joined by several of my friends, the H Street Country Club provided me with something that few other mini golf courses could – namely large amounts of alcohol (which was a great way to forget that I’ve been playing mini golf for 3 straight weeks now and that every course is starting to look the same and that the “vacation” I gave myself is beginning to become a chore someone help me please).

Seeing as this was the first course I’ve been to that was inside an actual bar, I wanted to see how that changed the course’s dynamic; would the holes be more mature or risque to appeal to its 21+ target demographic? Would the tawdry thrill of mini golf be made all the more titillating with the addition of sultry adult entertainments? Not really, the course had a delightful Washington D.C. design though, featuring zombified presidents,*** a giant silver statue of ex-mayor Marion Barry, and a miniaturized King Kong on the Washington monument. And all of the holes featured artistically diverse designs, offering fun variations on a D.C. theme, just like a high school mixtape about American democracy (and not, like my high school mixtapes, about how Lindsay broke my heart and how I’ll never stop loving her and also “Katmandu” by Bob Seger because that song jams). In addition, there were a lot of flat spaces where you could put your drink, which was very much appreciated.

However, given the course’s “mixtape” feel, at times the holes felt almost Kafkaesque in their nightmarish disregard for the norms of mini golf. The H Street Country Club featured tight spaces, different hole widths/carpeting on a hole-by-hole basis, holes without set boundaries, holes that you couldn’t see while putting, an impossible Lincoln Memorial hole with (apparently) a “45 degree angle slope” theme, and a hole that either gave you a hole-in-one or just pushed your ball out-of-bounds arbitrarily. Had I not been there with friends, this course could have been as frustrating as watching a one-man show about how people never watch one-man shows anymore. But, seeing as I was pretty tipsy, hanging out with friends, and (most importantly) having a lot of fun, these design flaws weren’t so much exasperating as they were amusing. And even if it wasn’t “the best mini golf course in America,” I still had a great time at H Street Country Club. The morning after wasn’t that good (my head feels like I used an ice pick as a Q-tip), but the night itself was wonderful.

*Fortunately that song is “Katmandu” by Bob Seger.
**Also, after writing reviews for Virginia and North Carolina, I’m sick of retelling the storied history of mini golf. That’s not what y’all are here for anyways. You’re here to find the best mini golf course in America – history’s for nerds.
***Who would probably still achieve more than all those fat cats in congress amiright?

Course Score: George – 26, Dan– 27, Paddy – 27, Seamus – 30, Eric – 32; par – 21.
Pros: 
Lots of flat spaces to place your drink; cool designs; great adherence to Washington D.C. as a theme; really cool props; great upkeep considering how many drunk people were there; a lot of fun; nine holes was just the right length.
Cons: 
Kafkaesque designs;  no boundaries for holes; the course used inconsistent materials on a hole by hole basis; several of the holes relied entirely on having a large amount of luck.

7/9/16 – Virginia

Course: Putt Putt Fun Center
Location: 1515 Putt Putt Pl, Charlottesville, VA 22901
Price: $6 for 18 holes.

DSC_0624

Maddy and I visit the Putt Putt Fun Center in Charlottesville

Review: Who the hell do I think I am? Playing all these hoity toity twelve dollar mini golf courses like I was Andrew friggin’ Carnegie. Mini golf is supposed to be the sport of the common man: the kind of man who buys the chicken entree, not the seafood entree, whenever he visits the Olive Garden. And sure, it may not be the highest reviewed course in the state,* but dammit I’m trying to find the best mini golf course in the nation. So why would I discount Putt Putt Fun Center: a 62-old-chain with over forty locations in 14 states? That’s like refusing to discuss Walmart in a book about places where you’ll probably get murdered. Sure, Walmart isn’t as glamorous as, say, the soundproof back room of Don Stefano’s exclusive sex-casino. But it still merits discussion.

Continuing yesterday’s history lesson, Putt Putt Fun Center picks up right where we left off. Approximately two decades after the Great Depression, miniature golf underwent a drastic revitalization with the adoption of mass marketed suburban sprawl high way road-stops (thanks Eisenhower!). And one of the first and foremost of these mass marketed courses was “Putt Putt Golf,” originally built only 44 miles away from the Thistle Dhu. The franchise’s creator, Don Clayton, was sick and tired off all the “hit and giggle” mini golf courses around the country – courses that had been turning our good, strong, Christian men into effete, intellectual sissy-boys. In Clayton’s eyes, mini golf was a man’s sport (like billiards or bear wrestling**). So, doing away with the sport’s conventional emasculating props, Clayton’s new hyper-macho mini golf venues sprouted up across the nation. And, after a few short years, just like Kleenex, Frisbee, or Walmart-Murder-Juice-Remover, “Putt Putt” courses were so popular that the phrase “putt putt” became a synonymous replacement for the product it was selling.

And, visiting one of these courses for the first time, one can still see Clayton’s dedication to the incorruptible purity of the sport. Despite the inexplicable “zoo” of plastic animals that surrounded the (equally inexplicably) bright orange course, the “Fun Center” was an austere, desolate, mass produced, Puritanical cathedral. In my review of Tennessee’s mini golf course, I complained that the holes sloped inward to make scoring easier. Well the Putt Putt Fun Center decided to go the opposite direction, removing many props and decorations, and actually placing one of the holes on a steep incline, making it fairly impossible to sink. It was as if Don Clayton himself was right there with you, spitting in your face for trying to have fun at his incorruptible shrine of masculinity. That being said, there were some interesting elements to the franchise as a whole. In all honesty, it was much more of an adult’s game; my friend Maddy and I compared it to a game of pool – with enough practice, golfers could perfect their scores, eventually lining up each shot perfectly (like a skilled marksman on a grassy knoll).

Is this course the best in America? Perhaps not. Definitely not. But it views mini golf with a (perhaps unwarranted) strictness that gives the sport a much more competitive atmosphere. It is definitely not worth driving all the way from Colorado to Virginia, but if a Putt Putt Fun Center is in your neighborhood, you probably won’t get murdered there. And at the end of the day, that’s the best that any of us can hope for.

*That honor goes to yet another cookie cutter pirate putting course, followed by yet another Pirate’s Cove (the ubiquitous E. coli virus of the mini golf world). I will be reviewing the flagship Pirate’s Cove in Michigan; for other pirate courses, check out my reviews from Mississippi and Alabama. In short, I really didn’t want to go to yet another pirate-themed course. They’re brutal.
**A sport that has gained a different connotation in recent years.

Course Score: Dan – 43, Maddy – 56; pro par – 36; amateur par – 45.
Pros: Unique spin on the game; historically important; ubiquitous; cheap.
Cons: Barren and cruel; lower production value than other courses I’ve visited; the venue we went to was in a bit of disrepair, but that varies on a state-by-state basis.

 

7/8/16 – North Carolina

Thistle Dhu

Location: 80 Carolina Vista Drive, Pinehurst, NC 28374
Phone: (855) 235-8507
Hours: Tee times can be reserved via phone or online (http://www.pinehurst.com/)
Price: Free to resort guests of the Pinehurst Resort, but hotel rooms cost anywhere between $241 – $622 per night; conversely you can sneak in pretending to be a guest (in which case it is free).

north-carolina

The Thistle Dhu

Review: After reviewing several of the nation’s most popular mini golf courses in South Carolina, I was ready to visit one of the sport’s most exclusive sites. And its oldest. That’s right: it’s time to to review the nation’s oldest mini golf course.*

The Thistle Dhu.

But first, we need some historical context. All the way back in the happy-go-lucky year of 1916, when America was still high off the purchase of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pinehurst resident James Barber designed a small, 18 hole miniature putting course on the grounds of his home. Seeing the final product, he proclaimed “this’ll do!” and the name, though stylized as “Thistle Dhu” stuck around. (James Barber’s house also had several other famous outdoor features, including the “Itz Sokay” rock garden, the “Meady Ochre” wishing well, and the “I don’t care what we call it Martha, it’s a damn gazebo” gazebo). Little did Barber know, but in 10 years time, thousands of these these so-called “Midget Golf” courses** would spring up around the nation, franchised in bulk as “Tom Thumb” courses by inventor Garnet Carter.*** And eventually, by the early 1930’s, there were over 30,000 mini golf courses in America, with nearly 150 located in New York City alone.

Unfortunately, following the collapse of the stock market, by 1932 (like all the M&M’s in a bag of trail mix) miniature golf courses mostly disappeared from America and the original Thistle Dhu was destroyed. However, in 2012 a small putting course was built in the same space at the world famous 4-star Pinehurst Resort, continuing the legacy of mini golf’s origin and celebrating its storied history.

Now, given that I was not a member of the Pinehurst Country Club, and given that I was not about to shell out upwards of 300 dollars to book a room at the Pinehurst Resort, playing this course was not easy for me to do. It also wasn’t, technically speaking, legal. So, in case I am ever formally charged with trespassing, rather than simply writing an admission of guilt, I will instead pose a series of hypothetical (and entirely fictitious) questions. Who knows, how did I even get to the course in the first place? Did I sneak onto a chartered bus going from the Pinehurst Resort all the way to the its members-only golf courses? Did I surreptitiously putt 18 holes on the Thistle Dhu using a bright blue ball I had purchased from an earlier mini golf course, sweating like a chocoholic at the Ghirardelli store? Did I overstay my welcome and sneak into a 4th of July party that was being hosted on an adjacent fairway, pretending to be the proud Pinehurst native “Steve Wexler”? Did I drink one of the beers there and smile whimsically as I listened to their country band play “Sweet Home Alabama,” knowing I had just gotten away with the perfect crime? For legal reasons, my answer to all of these questions must be an emphatic “no.”

That being said, the rebuilt Thistle Dhu was nothing to write home about. Sure, it was a fantastically well-maintained putting course in one of the nation’s most historically significant locations. And, for the first time in my entire trip, my fellow mini golfers were dressed in both polos and boating shoes (they were also preteens who spent 40 minutes paraphrasing the film Happy Gilmore, so it was a mixed bag). However, the course was quite simplistic. I’ve got to admit, the rebuilt Thistle Dhu lacked the sheer novelty of the original; the course I hypothetically played was just a really small golf course. Not a miniature golf course. And there is a massive distinction between those two phrases. Fortunately, I believe that that distinction may have been ever so slightly blurred in the past few days. Because hypothetically, if I did sneak into the Thistle Dhu, it may have been the first time ever that a modern-day mini golf ball was used on the nation’s oldest mini golf course.

Which is pretty neat.

* For those wondering, the world’s oldest mini golf course is the Ladies’ Putting Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, established in 1867.  Back then, it was deemed “unseemly” for women to play real golf, undoubtedly because their tender, pliant birthing hips would force the ball to gravitate into a sand trap (or because of some other monstrously sexist reason). The past was pretty bad.
** Again, the past was pretty bad.
*** It got to the point where Hollywood execs, fearing mini golf would replace movies as America’s favorite form of entertainment, forbid their stars from playing on these miniaturized monstrosities (which is probably the third most-oppressive thing Hollywood has ever done, right behind blacklisting commies and creating a sequel to Weekend at Bernie’s.)

Course Score: 54; no par listed.
Pros: You can literally smell the history in the air; beautiful setting; fantastically well-maintained course; great atmosphere.
Cons: Not the original course; extremely exclusive; mostly simplistic; no obstacles; low production-value; the resort is quite expensive; punk kids.

7/7/16 – South Carolina (Part 3)

Course: Mt. Atlanticus – Minotaur Goff
Location: 707 Highway 17 North, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
Price: $10 for 18 holes.

Atlanticus SC.JPG

My visit to Mt. Atlanticus

Review: Yup. This was the real deal: the crown jewel of the mini golf capital of the world. The self stylized “Best Miniature Golf Course in America,” built with a reported cost of 3 million dollars. One of Myrtle Beach’s oldest and most popular institutions. It even has its own parking garage.

Mt. Atlanticus.

If you’re looking for any sense of logic or order at Mt. Atlanticus, you’d have a better chance trying to decipher the mistranslated rantings of H.P. Lovecraft after drinking a bottle of DayQuil. Self-stylized as Minotaur Goff (intentional misspelling), Mt. Atlanticus is the unholy hybrid of Atlantis, Hawaii, Ancient Greece, the Incan Empire, and (for good measure) the album covers from every hair metal band from the 1980’s. Featuring massive towers overlooking the beach, absurdly expansive lakes, gigantic stone heads, ornate Grecian monoliths, a shaved-ice bar in the center of the course, and (most importantly) a particularly stirring mural of Jesus wearing sunglasses,* this course is like a particularly esoteric SkyMall catalog – filled with a bunch of really cool, but ultimately mindbogglingly random treasures.

It was also awesome.

Comprised of two different courses, (Minotaur and Conch) golfers voyaged across miniaturized oceans, through lofty caverns, and up several flights of stairs, until they arrived at the highest tower, overlooking the beach like a king. Like the rightful king of a domain filled with starfish, sandcastles, and drunk South Carolinians trying to see how many starfish can fit into a sandcastle before it collapses under the weight of a thousand starfish sandwiched into a castle made out of sand. And I’m sure right about now some readers are thinking “sure, it looks cool… but is every one of Mt. Atlanticus’ 36 holes unique, original, and challenging? I think not.” If you are one of these readers, you should blind yourself like Oedipus at the end of Oedipus because you have never been more wrong. There were holes I’d never even dreamed of here.** There were holes that even sunglass-wearing Jesus couldn’t dream of – and he wrote the bible. Moreover, at the end of the course, if golfers got a hole-in-one on the 19th hole, they would be given a lifetime pass to Mt. Atlanticus. And what a lifetime that would be. No need for children or a 401k. Just mini golf. Pure, unfettered mini golf. Until finally, weary from a life well led, you fall majestically from the highest tower of Mt. Atlanticus into a sapphire lake, like a fallen angel – forever cementing yourself in the annals of history and completely ruining the vacation of the Dreyson family who just wanted to play a quick round of mini golf before driving six hours back to Atlanta.

Even the wear-and-tear and occasional scuffmark couldn’t diminish my love of this course. Trust me, if you’re ever in Myrtle Beach and want to experience the miracle of Atlantis at the cost of an appetizer at the Olive Garden, Mt. Atlanticus comes with my highest recommendation.

*Because regular Jesus can turn water into wine, but sunglass Jesus can turn wine into Miller High Life-the champagne of beers ©.
**And, after playing mini golf for 3 straight weeks now, every time I go to bed I see mini golf. I feel mini golf. I hear mini golf (and the distant sounds of my own screaming – but that’s probably because I’m just so darn excited to play more mini golf, not because this trip will destroy me).

Course Score: 42; no par.
Pros: Impressive atmosphere; challenging course; beautiful environment; awesome (in the sense that it inspires pure, unadulterated awe); majestic; the Atlantis of Myrtle Beach.
Cons: Poor upkeep in places; there were sometimes decently large divots in the grass.

7/6/15 – South Carolina (part 2)

Course: Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf
Location: 2205 N Kings Hwy, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
Price: $9 for 18 holes before 6 pm; $10 for 18 holes after 6pm.

DSC_0645

Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf

Review: Now this is more what I expected from the mini golf capital of the world. Located a few miles away from Hawaiian Rumble, Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf finally tells the story that J.M. Barrie never had the balls* to tell. The story where Peter Pan smashes a putting iron against Captain Hook’s titular hook and sparks fly like a kidnapped child hopped up on fairy dust; the story where Tinkerbell chokes on a mini golf ball and the audience is too distracted by the high production value of the course to clap her back to life again; the story where Tiger Lily is still kind of a racist caricature, because some things will never change. And so, after almost driving my car into the ocean (I was too busy rubbing my hands together in delight), I was quickly on my way to Never Neverland… after, of course, a delightful conversation with the course’s cashier. A conversation that has been transcribed below:

ME: I’d like a round of mini golf please.
CASHIER: For how many (pause) or just for one?
ME: (long pause) Just for one please.
CASHIER: (pause) Ok. (pause) Which course do you want, we have a ‘Lost Boys’ course that goes through a skull-shaped cave, or a ‘Hook Challenge’ course that goes over Captain Hook’s boat.
ME: I like boats.
CASHIER: (long pause) Ok.

And let me tell you, if you’ve never played mini golf on a real boat before, you are missing the hell out: the wind whipping through your hair like the breath of an old, wise man. The saltwater speckling your tongue like the perspiration of an old, wise man. The warm embrace of the sea, grabbing you tighter than, well you get the point. What I’m trying to say is that it was quite nice. And this niceness extended to the rest of the course as well. The high budget animatronics and holographic Tinkerbell, the complex multi-level holes, and the pristine Neverland environment made me feel as if I were Dustin Hoffman in the movie Hook (which is nice because I usually feel like Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer). But, as I said before, the high point of this course was, without a doubt, Captain Hook’s pirate ship, where an animatronic Captain Hook hung from the rigging of the boat yelling taunts at the dastardly Peter Pan while an animatronic crocodile lunged out of the water. There’s no other word for it… it was cool. Like a life-size model of James Dean made entirely out of Belgian Chocolate Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Cool.

Sure, were some of the holes a little simplistic? Was the layout, while beautiful, a little unimaginative? Yes, I suppose. But while Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf failed to completely drop my jaw, it remains an incredibly fun course. Moreover it is still only the second highest rated/most popular course in Myrtle Beach. And so, after putting a delightful 18 holes, I was forced to leave Neverland, get back into my mother’s Subaru, and become a man again. But, after all, if I stayed in Neverland and remained a child forever, how could I be expected to summit the crown jewel of Myrtle Beach… Mount Atlanticus.

*Pun intended if only because the other kind of balls are icky.

Course Score: 47; par – 42
Pros: Great animatronics/storytelling; high budget; great upkeep; each course was equally impressive/expansive; several challenging holes; holographic Tinkerbell; fun commitment to the Peter Pan universe.
Cons: Some of the front 9 holes were a little simplistic; the course lacked personality at times – despite the source material, it seemed a little unimaginative.